When it comes to the future of quarterback Marcus Mariota, the Tennessee Titans have a firm grasp of the territory they are in.
Entering this offseason, the Titans found themselves in a difficult situation with Mariota. His complex and voluminous injury history, along with statistical mediocrity, left the team with plenty more questions than answers regarding the fifth-year quarterback.
Additionally, Mariota is set to enter the final year of his rookie contract in 2019. He will make just under $21 million this season, but his future beyond this year is far from certain.
Mariota’s tricky career has made him a bit of a polarizing figure. Some Titans fans still have themselves convinced that he can do no wrong. Others believe him to be utterly useless and that the team needs to imminently move on.
— AtoZSports Nashville (@AtoZSports) March 26, 2019
The correct view of Mariota is probably close to the middle of those two extremes. Based on their actions this offseason, that seems to be the view that the Titans organization has of him.
Unlike a lot of teams who keep themselves in quarterback purgatory for years, the Titans understand what they have in Mariota. As for the things that they don’t understand, they are looking to find out.
In terms of the personnel around him, the Titans have put Mariota in a better position for success than he has been in at any point so far in his career. Free agency saw the Titans offense add Adam Humphries, a reliable slot receiver, and Rodger Saffold, a premier guard.
They also gave Mariota something he has never had and now needs more than ever: a more-than-competent backup. QB Ryan Tannehill, who the Titans acquired in a trade with the Miami Dolphins, is now arguably the best non-starting quarterback in the NFL.
When they throw those personnel additions in with existing talent like Taylor Lewan, Derrick Henry and Delanie Walker, the Titans will have themselves a pretty good recipe for offensive success in 2019. They will also have an excellent recipe to get one last, good look at Mariota.
If Mariota struggles again this season, whether due to injury or anything else, the Titans will have their answer as to whether he is truly their franchise quarterback. Their decisions this offseason have eliminated essentially every valid excuse as to why he might not perform.
Those decisions have also indicated something very good about the Titans’ mindset when it comes to Mariota: they aren’t fooling themselves into thinking he is something that he’s not.
— Rob DeMello (@RobDeMelloKHON) March 25, 2019
Everyone in that organization loves Mariota, and deservingly so. But loving the guy is one thing and ignoring reality, as a result, is another. The Titans clearly understand that distinction.
When Mariota is on the field, the Titans have a chance to win any game. The big questions the team will have to answer after this season are 1) is he actually on the field enough for that to matter, and 2) if he produces at a mediocre level, is that worth a big money contract extension?
Because of the way they have handled the offseason, the Titans are in a good spot regardless of how this season goes for Mariota. If it’s another bumpy season that’s plagued with injuries, they will have a good insurance plan in Tannehill and know that Mariota has already peaked.
If things go well, which is certainly the Titans’ hope, then they can give Mariota the franchise tag and move forward with extension talks from there.
It’s now or never for Mariota in 2019. The Titans know that, and they have doubled down on that knowledge with their actions.
Cover image: USA Today/Robert Deutsch